Trump administration takes one more shot at women's health care while it can

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The Trump administration has placed a conservative evangelical view of 'religious freedom' above all other rights.

The anti-choice policies pushed by Donald Trump and Mike Pence will likely soon be a thing of the past, but the outgoing administration is going to do as much damage to reproductive freedom as it can before Jan. 20. 

The latest attack comes in the form of one last change to Title X, which is supposed to provide money for family planning services for low-income people.

Title X funds used to go to organizations that actually provide comprehensive family planning services, such as Planned Parenthood, which had been treating 40% of the 4 million patients receiving care under Title X. Under the Trump administration, that money has been diverted to organizations that push natural family planning and abstinence rather than contraception or abortion. 

Now the administration is finalizing a rule change that will narrow the scope of Title X funds even further. The rule change will allow faith-based providers to receive Title X dollars even if they refuse to inform patients about services they don't provide because of their religious beliefs. They can also receive Title X dollars even if they refuse to refer people to other providers that offer contraceptive services. 

It isn't that religious groups were previously prohibited from getting Title X funds: They just had to follow the rules like everyone else.  

Under President Barack Obama, religious health care and social service groups were required to refer patients to a different provider that could provide contraception and abortion services if the patient wished. They've never been forced to provide something to which they are morally opposed.

But, in an echo of conservative attacks on the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate, the administration believes that requiring religious health care or social service providers even to mention that another organization could provide contraception is a violation of religious freedom. 

This is yet another way the Trump administration has placed a conservative evangelical view of "religious freedom" above all other rights. It denies people safe, effective, and legal access to birth control and abortion. Instead, it gives money to organizations like Obria, an organization that passes itself off as promoting "natural family planning" and says it provides a "telemedicine" app, but is actually what the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability calls "a religious ministry masquerading as a healthcare group" that foists abstinence and medically unsound ideas like "abortion pill reversal" on people. 

Under the Trump administration, anti-abortion groups have gotten everything they wanted. And, as Trump's time in office comes to a close, the administration is racing to make sure it enshrines as much conservative religious belief into law as it possibly can.

Indeed, this most recent "religious freedom" rule doesn't just apply to Title X funding. It's a joint rule covering nine agencies, from HUD to Veterans Affairs to the Department of Education and more.

While the incoming Biden administration will be able to undo some of this damage, it will take time. Meanwhile, religious groups will be given taxpayer dollars to push a narrow evangelical belief system on everyone. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.